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Miami Hurricanes 2018 Season Review: Safeties Recap

The last line of the Canes defense certainly made a statement in 2018.

Miami v Virginia Tech Photo by Michael Shroyer/Getty Images

They’re the last line of defense. Sometimes they’re referred to as help defenders, rovers or chess pieces of the defense with which a defensive coordinator can gain leverage. The safety position has developed into one of the standout positions for the University of Miami. Prominent players of the sport, such as Sean Taylor and Ed Reed, became household names as Hurricanes manning the position. Recently, the position has enjoyed prominent duos to lock down the back half of the defense. With the likes of Rayshawn Jenkins and Jamal Carter forming dynamic chemistry years ago, UM looked to recapture that synergy in 2018 — not just among their starting unit, but through the position.

Strong safety, Jaquan Johnson, and free safety, Sheldrick Redwine, combined to form a formidable tandem at the position. Redwine’s move to safety reunited him with his fellow Miami Killian HS teammate Johnson in the back half of the defense. Although most of the spotlight was given to Johnson based on his style of leadership and production as an underclassmen, Redwine was a tremendous boost to secondary play as a safety. Hurricanes fans got to experience plenty of whiteboard shoutouts — a staple of any Sheldrick Redwine turnover. Tied for the team lead with three interceptions, corralling a fumble and credited with forcing a fumble, No. 22 was often the recipient of the vaunted Turnover Chain. While Redwine became beloved for his playmaking ability, forcing turnovers and sideline celebrations that endeared him to the Hurricanes’ fan base, he might be most remembered for his impact on arrival when making a tackle. Of his 64 total tackles, Redwine simply doesn’t know how to take his foot off the gas. Arriving with malicious intent, you better get down or you’ll be laid down when the free safety sets his sights on you.

NCAA Football: Savannah State at Miami Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Jaquan Johnson was the soul and often the voice of the 2018 Miami Hurricanes’ defense. A leader both by example and through his words, the defender took it upon himself to hold teammates accountable in his final season as a Cane. Similar to the team, Johnson suffered setbacks during the ‘18 season. Johnson was forced to miss a couple games due to a hamstring injury. It was a tough diagnosis to receive for a player as competitive as No. 4. Despite missing a few games, Johnson made his mark in run support for the Hurricanes. Leading the defense with 92 total tackles and 1.5 tackles-for-loss, the safety was a threat to make a play — regardless of direction and play type. Johnson finished the season with two interceptions, two pass breakups and a special teams block. Johnson’s reaction to and pursuit of a play are a couple of the safety’s more admirable qualities. Fighting through the traffic near the line of scrimmage, chasing down plays if he’s beat initially… that never quit mentality is why Johnson became a fan favorite early in his career.

While the men from Miami Killian drew most of the attention, the rest of the depth chart was not too shabby for Miami in ‘18. Some of those personnel actually represent the future of the position in 2019.

Earlier, we heaped praise on Sheldrick Redwine’s ability to deliver a shot to opponents, but there might not be a bigger hitter on the defense than fellow safety Amari Carter. In his sophomore season, the Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, native took another step towards continuing the lineage of premium safeties from The U. Earning his first career start at home against FIU, Carter’s snaps with the starting defense moved up significantly last season. His 12 total tackles, three tackles-for-loss and one sack are modest totals, yet gaining experience with more playing time last season will surely benefit the young safety in 2019 when he projects to compete for one of the starting safety spots. We’ve been saying it since his arrival on campus, but — finally 2019 is poised to be a breakout year for Amari Carter.

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During last year’s spring practices, outside of fielding questions regarding who would be the starting quarterback, the praise for S Gurvan Hall was the talk of camp in early practices. Hall was able to capture the attention of coaches and teammates in the first week, but suffered a setback in the form of a knee injury that forced him to miss the remainder of the spring session. The Palm Beach Gardens High School grad was able to be a fly on the wall for the remainder of spring, rehabbing before the start of the season. Similar to fellow PBC running mate Amari Carter, Hall’s freshman season consisted of him primarily working on special teams, with defensive snaps coming in blowout scenarios. After taking a first-class apprenticeship with Redwine and Johnson, Gurvan Hall is poised to be the next in the line of great safeties for the Canes.

Last season was a bumpy ride for redshirt junior Robert Knowles. Although he didn’t see much time on defense, it often felt as though he was chasing plays that somehow got by him. For most defenders, this is nothing new. For a safety, that’s usually not a good sign. That said, Knowles was a contributor on special teams and, as one of the older players on the roster, knows his assignment. While some on social media ridicule him that he receives playing time on defense, for some reason unknown to us, safety coach Ephraim Banda and new head coach Manny Diaz trusted Knowles to be on the field. With both starting positions vacant entering spring practices, Knowles will be part of the competition to earn more snaps — like it or not.

Coach Banda should be somewhat pleased with the performance of his position last season. The group was made up of the ideal blend of upperclassmen and underclassmen that complement one another. The Hurricanes finished last year ranked as the top passing defense in the country, giving up just 11 touchdowns and helping to limit opponents to just 135.6 yards-per-game. Of the Hurricanes’ 16 interceptions in 2018, the safeties accounted for five — not including Romeo Finley, since he’s considered a hybrid linebacker. The group played fast and hungry, which is rule one for the position. No one’s perfect, however, and there were plenty of missteps in coverage that will need to be ironed out if Miami is serious about crawling back into contention in 2019.

Questions for 2019?

The biggest quandary for the safety position this upcoming season is who will start for the Hurricanes on August 31st against rival Florida in Orlando. As outlined, the popular belief is that one or two of the younger members of the position will assume the roles, but we’re months away from any certainties.

The other questions pertains to depth in the back half. As of publishing, Keontra Smith is the lone safety signed to join the position. The addition of former USC S Bubba Bolden provides competition among the holdovers from last season.

The future is promising in 2019 coming off a good 2018 performance from the unit. Here’s hoping that the Canes’ defensive insurance policy has few deductibles in the new year.